Bess Myerson 1945 Miss America

Pictured above: Bess Myerson, 1957

CULTUREIFY

Politician, actress, entertainer and Miss America 1945, Bess Myerson, died on December 14, 2014 at her home in Santa Monica, California. She was 90.
Myerson was the first Jewish American Miss America crowned on September 8, 1944, in Atlantic City. She was the first Miss New York to be crowned Miss America, and she was the Miss America Organization’s first scholarship recipient to further her degree. After graduation from Hunter College she used the scholarship to complete her graduate studies in music at The Juilliard School and Columbia University.

She parlayed her Miss America title to fight anti-Semitism and racial bigotry as she traveled around the country.

The year after her reign as Miss America, she continued to speak out on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League in cooperation with the NAACP and the Urban League.

Noted for her intelligence and quick wit, Bess became a regular television personality and in 1951, she was hired as the Mistress of Ceremonies for “The Big Payola”. She appeared on “The Name’s the Same” in 1954,
from 1958 through 1967, she was a panelist on “I’ve Got A Secret”

She appeared in Alan Funt’s Candid Camera and was a celebrity spokesperson for a variety of products:
From 1969 until 1973 Bess served as the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs for New York City.

She was named as the architect for the consumer protection legislation and was featured on the cover of Life Magazine on July 16, 1971, titled “A Consumer’s Best Friend.”

In 1980, Bess ran for the Democratic nomination for New York’s US Senate seat and while she did not win the nomination, her commitment to public service continued through her appointment as Commissioner of Cultural Affairs by former New York Mayor, Ed Koch.

In 1983, scandal rocked Myerson’s world while fulfilling her role as Commissioner. Myerson became romantically linked with a married sewage contractor, Carl Andrew Capasso. Reports surfaced that during Capasso’s divorce proceedings, the judge hearing the case was Hortense Gable, a social acquaintance of Myerson. Further complicating matters, Myerson had also hired Gable’s daughter, Sukreett as assistant to Ms. Myerson in the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Capasso’s divorce ruling ended with Gabel cutting Capasso’s child support payments by well over half. The Myerson, Capasso, and Gable relationship smacked of bribery and investigators, to their credit, began to research whether the judge had been bribed in any way. Ultimately, Myerson was forced to resign her position in April 1987 after she invoked the Fifth Amendment. In 1988, the trio of Myerson, Capasso, and Gabel Capasso’s divorce ruling ended with Gabel cutting Capasso’s child support payments by well over half. The Myerson, Capasso, and Gable relationship smacked of bribery and investigators, to their credit, began to research whether the judge had been bribed in any way. Ultimately, Myerson was forced to resign her position in April 1987 after she invoked the Fifth Amendment. In 1988, the trio of Myerson, Capasso, and Gabel were tried on federal charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, obstruction of justice, and using interstate facilities to violate state bribery laws. While all three defendants were acquitted and Gabel was forced off of the bench the primary question was whether Gabel was bribed by Myerson to lower Capasso’s child support payment obligations when she hired Sukreet, the judge’s daughter. The scandal is remembered as the “Bess Mess.” In another odd turn for the former Miss America, in May of 1988, shortly before the federal trial began, Bess Myserson was arrested for shoplifing in South Williamsport, PA. She pled guilty to retail thent and was issued a fine.

Capasso’s divorce ruling ended with Gabel cutting Capasso’s child support payments by well over half. The Myerson, Capasso, and Gable relationship smacked of bribery and investigators, to their credit, began to research whether the judge had been bribed in any way. Ultimately, Myerson was forced to resign her position in April 1987 after she invoked the Fifth Amendment. In 1988, the trio of Myerson, Capasso, and Gabel were tried on federal charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, obstruction of justice, and using interstate facilities to violate state bribery laws. While all three defendants were acquitted and Gabel was forced off of the bench the primary question was whether Gabel was bribed by Myerson to lower Capasso’s child support payment obligations when she hired Sukreet, the judge’s daughter. The scandal is remembered as the “Bess Mess.” In another odd turn for the former Miss America, in May of 1988, shortly before the federal trial began, Bess Myserson was arrested for shoplifing in South Williamsport, PA. She pled guilty to retail thent and was issued a fine.

Returning to private life, Bess became a founder of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York and also established the Bess Myerson Film and Video collection.

Her civic and philanthropic achievements also included support of The Guild for the Blind, supported the Hebrew University for Cancer Research and SHARE, and the Ovarian Cancer Program.

Myerson was the recipient of distinguished Presidential appointments, in homage to her many accomplishments, by former U.S. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

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Bess Myerson was born in the Bronx on July 16, 1924, daughter of Louis and Bella Myerson, Russian-Jewish immigrants. She had a brother who died at the age of three from diphtheria. She grew up in the Shalom Aleichem Co-operative where at nine, she began to study piano. She studied at New York’s High School of Music and Art in 1937. Following high school, she entered Hunter College, graduating with honors in 1945 with a degree in music.

While studying, she gave piano lessons for fifty cents an hour to earn money to support herself and her family. In October 1946, Myerson married Allan Wayne, a recently discharged U.S. Navy captain. The couple gave birth to a daughter, Barbara (today known as Barra Grant). The marriage ended after 11 years of domestic issues. Myerson again married Arnold Grant, an attorney. In 1962, he legally adopted Barbara. The marriage failed and the couple divorced in the early 1970s. Myers is survived by her daughter

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